Updated: Apr 1
Last year at the 22nd annual Museums and the Web conference in Vancouver, Rob Cawston of National Museums Scotland caught the attention of the Glenbow Museum with his presentation on the NMS trial venture into experimentation with digital donations.
For the longest time, coin donation boxes have been woven into the tapestry of museums and gallery spaces, however, with the arrival of contactless payment technology, galleries and public spaces such as National Museums of Scotland as well as the Glenbow also believe this new technology could create a new way for the public to support cultural institutions.
Could contactless technology create a new type of giving experience for the donor? Supported by a Rozsa Foundation Experimentation Grant, a pilot Tap-to-Donate box has been installed at the Glenbow to investigate and evaluate on the future of donations at galleries and museums.
Designed to provide seed funding for a small-scale new test or experiment, Rozsa Foundation Experimentation Grant supports high-learning processes that address a clearly identified challenge facing the organization.
The Glenbow Tap-to-Donate donation box experiment represents a fundamental shift in the way the organization has been working previously, testing a clearly-articulated hypothesis which, if proven to be correct, could have significant impact moving forward.
With just under a year of testing of the Tap-to-Donate box at the Glenbow museum, the box already appears to be making an impression on patrons of the Glenbow, it’s staff and volunteers allowing for the organization to clearly record visitor feedback and attempt to answer some of the key questions raised by the trial run at the National Museum of Scotland:
· How does the positioning of the contactless terminal within the museum space affect the frequency of visitor donations?
· What types of experience and core messaging can best attract attention and prompt interaction?
· How does the use of contactless technology for donations differ from commercial transactions?
· How can organizations build visitor confidence in new technology facilitate new ways of giving?
In Canada, the Tap-to-Donate system is the first of its kind and still under user testing as organizations and institutions warm to the idea of contactless technology to raise donor support. There also appears to be a difference between how the technology for donations differ from commercial transactions in relation to processing times. Through further feedback and interaction, contactless donations may just become a normalized way of support. The Glenbow Museum is one of the first cultural institutions in Canada to experiment with contactless donations.
According to Lynda, a celebrated volunteer at Glenbow Museum, the Tap-to-Donate Box is “fairly easy to use. We found donors were looking to have the ability to donate more specific amounts as well as their own ability to input their own defined donation amount.” Currently, at this time, the Tap-to-Donate box is set to a specified donation amount.
“What we are seeing," Lynda continues, “is the benefits outweigh the minor frustrations of the first run. In the time the boxes have been available, we have seen fantastic to response to the box. There aren’t a lot of people who are carrying cash these days. Payment with credit, debit, Apple Pay is becoming the norm. The feedback we have gotten so far is positive! The general response we get from visitors is “That’s really cool!”
Lynda reports for the Glenbow positioning of the box has proven to be important. "When we aren’t having a particular event, visitors see the box and is drawing people’s attention. We can hardly wait for version 2! I think it says a lot when visitors and donors are willing to stand in line to donate to us simply because of the convenience of tapping!”
To further continue the conversation, Jenny Conway Fisher, Manager of Marketing and Communications at Glenbow adds:
"Tap-to-Donate offers an opportunity to make the act of donating money more interesting and more convenient. There is a novelty in using new technology, but a practicality as well - people are carrying less cash, and we need to be able to capture that spontaneous moment when someone has had a great experience at Glenbow and wants to show their appreciation or offer their support. If we miss that moment, those lovely and generous intentions can dissipate and get buried by onerous donation paper work or labyrinthine online donation portals.
We find that there are perceptions about "philanthropy" as something only wealthy people participate in or that it's the responsibility of private corporations. As Calgary's economy shifts and evolves, as an organization, we definitely need to be nimble and fiscally prudent and smart about finding new funding and revenue opportunities, but we also have to get better at communicating to our visitors about how our funding model works and how every ticket purchase, every membership and every donation - no matter how small, truly makes a difference and supports Glenbow's operations.
The Tap-to-Donate platform makes micro-donations or smaller contributions much easier. It’s most effective when there is an activation of some kind – a human standing beside the machine explaining how to use it or engaging with a visitor about the novelty about the whole thing. The feedback loop of getting a response when you make a donation is so crucial to ensuring that a donor walks away feeling good about making their donation – that’s where the next phase needs to focus on. That’s what was illustrated very clearly during our pilot project."